Gunnison employers feeling effects of tight labor market
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Kate Gienapp

Despite a near-constant bustle inside the Gunnisack restaurant, for the first time in its 15-year stint on Main Street in Gunnison, the business is closing for dinner due to a lack of staff.

“This is the first time I’ve gotten to this point where we don't have enough either front or back of house,” explained Gunnisack owner David Jacobson.

In response to the shortage of employees, the Gunnisack has adjusted hours of operation from 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Saturday — a move Jacobson said is necessary to stay in business.

"Help wanted" signs posted throughout Gunnison are a telltale sign of a tight labor market, and business owners throughout the city are expressing woes over employee shortages. While it’s nothing new for Crested Buttearea establishments to feel a labor pinch — especially during the busy months of summer — it’s less common for businesses in Gunnison to resort to cutting hours amid the crunch.

“We’re in a situation that’s very difficult,” added Jacobson. “Some places will just hire the first body that walks through the door, and I just refuse to do that.”

Gunnison County's unemployment rate for July was 1.7 percent. That’s among the 15 lowest for counties in Colorado, according to the state’s Division of Labor Standards and Statistics, and also marks a slide from 2.3 percent in June. Gunnison County’s employment rate in July 2018 also was 2.3 percent.

The state unemployment rate — one of the lowest in the country, economists say — was 2.9 percent last month, a decrease of one-tenth of a percentage point from June.

Additionally, the state Division of Labor reports that of the 7,200 nonfarm payroll jobs added statewide from June to July, the largest private-sector gains were in leisure and hospitality, professional and business services, and educational and health services.

The national unemployment in July remained at about 3.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet, at the height of the summer season numerous local business owners — just like Jacobson — say they've had a hard time finding enough employees to cover hours.

“We’re looking for qualified people — and it’s a pipe dream,” said H&H Towing owner Navid Navidi.

H&H has long struggled to find suitable employees for the business. Although the business doesn’t deal with the high turnover often seen in the restaurant industry, the task of maintaining staff has become such a strain that Navidi is now looking to sell the business.

H&H even has gone so far as to advertise positions out of state.

“We’ve advertised in Texas and Arizona, and nobody is even applying,” said Navidi. “It’s just really hard to find anybody.”

As summer visitation continues to increase, keeping the business running also requires more from current staff.

“It just puts a strain on the people that we already have,” said Navidi. “They have to work a lot of long hours, a lot of overtime.”

H&H has six full-time employees to date, but Navidi is still looking — so far without success — to hire an additional two drivers.

Another local business struggling to find drivers is Amerigas. The business for more than a year has attempted to entice employees through a range of benefits. That includes a current offer of a $5,000 signing bonus for anyone willing to be a driver.

“I still can’t get anybody,” explained General Manager Joe Moseley.

To be a propane delivery driver for Amerigas, applicants also are not required to have a valid commercial driver’s license to apply. According to the application, benefits for the job include health insurance, a retirement plan and paid time off.

Still, the ability to attract workers has remained relatively low, said Moseley.

Earlier this year, propane companies were pressed amid a shortage of propane within the state of Colorado. Critical in providing propane for rural Coloradans mid-winter were the drivers who traveled to states such as Kansas or Ohio to bring back supplies to largely rural areas in Colorado.

“Drivers are critical to our operations and for our clients,” added Moseley.

(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or kate@gunnisontimes.com.)